Soul Letters For The Cancer Sojourner #6 – Letting Other People Be Part Of Your Story When You Have Cancer

It can be challenging including others in a cancer experience.

When things are at their worst, we want to protect the people we love from feeling the same anxiety and confusion we are. So we smile when we feel like crying. We hide behind a locked door, telling folks it’s “not a good day”. We stay in when we could go out. We change the subject, force a laugh, literally put on a brave face as they walk in the room – and take it off again when they go, collapsing from the exhaustion of trying to be one of those ones everybody brags on who “never complains”.

And then there are the times when we just want to punch people in the head for being so nice.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Sometimes, being a cancer hero is just bloody hard work.

Nobody wants to be a cancer whiner. We don’t even want to hear about it any more, so why would anyone else? Cancer isn’t very exciting, not nearly as exciting and interesting as others seem to think. Can’t we just change the subject?

“Can I come around and see you?” Can you come around and look at me, you mean. Sure! Bring your friends! You can all go out to lunch afterwards and have something interesting to talk about! OR NOT.

Yep, it’s challenging, knowing how to include others in a cancer experience.

There’s not many things worse than feeling patronised, placated and pussy-footed around. But as someone with a scary disease,  allowing others to come around you and give their little offerings to you in the ways they know how is really important for them. It lets them know they have power against cancer too, because they are shit-scared and feel inadequate and intimidated, just like you. Allowing others near you gives meaning and purpose to them in the cancer, at a time when they may be feeling completely useless and powerless.

They’ll tell you later, “Do you remember when I….”, and you may not even remember what they did and when they did it, but they will. And that matters.

Let go, and let others. Even if it’s only sometimes. There ain’t no medals for this, you know.

*****

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5 Replies

  • Jo – its slightly more than 9 years now since I had surgery for Dukes B Colorectal Cancer. And still the number of people who know about it can be counted on my hands. I’ve spent time lying, misdirecting, “being economical with the truth” – often in large part to protect myself from the sorts of comments that I’m sure you talk about in your book (a copy of which I have just ordered). In the last 18 months or so I have found myself searching for healing for myself from the scars of having cancer. And there are times when I want to share it with people. But now to some extent I will have to face the accusations of why I didn’t tell them so long ago. Cancer is complicated in so many more ways than surgery/treatment etc isn’t it 🙁
    Perhaps for your next book you can write one with ideas about how we (as cancer survivors) can respond to all the comments we get!
    Anyway from the bits I read of you intermittently you are a great writer and I really look forward to reading your book 🙂

    • Dear Penelope,
      Thanks for coming and checking out the blog…just addressing your parcel now!
      Cancer is certainly more than a physical disease, it’s like another country, with a culture and a language and customs – unfortunately, some of us are not interested in learning the “way we do things” in cancer world! It’s perfectly understandable you’d want to keep your life as “normal” as possible, and you’re certainly not the only person I know of who chose not to broadcast the fact the had cancer. The real downside to this is being left feeling unsupported. Hopefully this hasn’t been the case for you. Please keep in touch, and expect your book this week, subject to Christmas mail!
      All the best,
      Jo 🙂

  • I resisted letting my mother come to one of my chemotherapy sessions, mostly because she was driving me absolutely bonkers with her newfound anger and (understandable) desperate & clingy need to feel involved. When I finally relented, she was able to see how well-cared for I was at the hospital and she finally, blessedly, calmed down.

    • I totally understand this Lisa, and your response in allowing her to see how you were being cared for was obviously the best one. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt if my daughter had been the one with the cancer. Doesn’t even bear thinking about 🙁

  • “There’s not many things worse than feeling patronised, placated and
    pussy-footed around. But as someone with a scary disease, allowing
    others to come around you and give their little offerings to you in the
    ways they know how is really important for them. It lets them know they
    have power against cancer too, because they are shit-scared and feel
    inadequate and intimidated, just like you.” You have really encapsulated a very important relational issue here in exploring indentity and ownership of a life-altering disease. Profoundl, intuitive stuff – great material to explore in a workshop or audience participation talk. Great work.

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